Where are they now? Leicestershire – County Champions 1996

By Neil Fissler

Leicestershire were the rank outsiders to win the County Championship in 1996 with bookmakers offering them at odds of 40-1.

It was easy to see why as they had only ever won the Championship once before in 1975 and in 1995 had finished seventh.

But Jack Birkenshaw, who was a member of the 1975 winning side, was in charge 21 years later as county coach and had spent the previous winter in South Africa.

One of the ideas Birkenshaw brought back was travelling to away games early on the day before in order to practise on the ground they were about to play on. An evening meal and team meeting would follow.

Together with new skipper James Whitaker, they also made other alterations like taking to the field together and catching practice in pre-season.

The result was a remarkable and immediate turn around in fortunes.

They won their opening game of the season against Derbyshire by six wickets while Worcestershire, Yorkshire, Essex, Somerset, Durham and Middlesex, in their last match of the season, were all beaten by an innings.

The only defeat came in June by 108 runs against Surrey at the Oval when Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher both scored big centuries.

And they only used 13 players all season with Phil Simmons, Vince Wells, Ben Smith and Whitaker all passing 1,000 runs in Championship matches.

Simmons was also the second highest wicket taker with 56. Only David Millns’ haul of  67 bettered the Trinidadian who also added 33 slip catches.

It all meant that Leicestershire clocked up 296 points for the season which was 27 more than Derbyshire who finished second.

The title was finally secured after Worcestershire won at Surrey to mean that Leicestershire could not be caught.

Leicestershire went on to celebrate in style by beating Middlesex by an innings.

Wicketkeeper Paul Nixon said: “It was the best season of our lives. The manner in which we won games was amazing. We averaged something near 400 in our first innings and the opposition around 200.

“The stats were phenomenal. Just batting once on ten occasions was unbelievable and I don’t think that will ever be beaten.

“We just got on a roll, we knew that someone was always going to pull out a match-winning performance. David Millns and Alan Mullally were part of a high class attack.

“We had Gordon Parsons coming on and bowling away swingers through to Vince Wells who could break partnerships and Adrian Pierson who got good turn and bounce.

“We were all real mates as opposed to team-mates. People knew their roles within the team and delivered consistently.

“We always knew that with a small county like Leicestershire you were going to have smaller squads where younger players get an opportunity because you haven’t got big money.

“And Phil Simmons was a great man to have. He gave a lot to the team. His contribution was outstanding. To have his character was awesome.

“He just lifted everything. He was a born winner and basically everything was geared towards winning and playing cricket smart.”

Back row (left-to-right):
Aftab Habib: A batsman who played two Tests for England, he went into coaching with Hong Kong and was a cricket development officer for the Buckinghamshire Cricket Board. Is now a freelance coach based in Reading.
Ben Smith: A batsman who also served Leicestershire for 11 seasons before moving onto Worcestershire.  After retiring he moved back to Grace Road in January 2012 to join the coaching staff and is a senior coach.
Phil Simmons: A former West Indies all-rounder who opened the batting. After retiring in 2002 went into coaching with Zimbabwe and then Ireland until March when he was appointed West Indies head coach.
Alan Mullally: England Test bowler who grew up in Australia playing for their U19s before having two spells at Hampshire either side of a stint at Leicestershire. Now based in Perth where he is running his own cricket academy.
Adrian Pierson: Middlesex-born all-rounder who also played for Warwickshire, Somerset and Derbyshire. Qualified as a commercial pilot and now works for Jet2.
Gordon Parsons: Burly, bustling fast bowler who was the brother-in-law of the late, disgraced former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje. Now living in South Africa himself where he has been on the coaching staff of the Highveld Lions since 2008.

Front row:
Vince Wells: All-rounder who won England ODI honours. He also played for Kent and Durham and became master in charge of cricket at Sutton Valence School in Kent where he is also an assistant housemaster.
James Whitaker: Former England international batsman who became coach and director of cricket at Leicestershire where he spent the whole of his career and is now the ECB’s head of selectors.
Paul Nixon: A wicketkeeper/batsman who played ODI cricket for England. He now runs his own cricket academy and works in the media, including The Cricket Paper. He also works the after-dinner speaking circuit.
Darren Maddy: England all- rounder who later went onto play for Warwickshire before retiring in 2013. Is now an ambassador for the Birmingham Bears and is also master in charge of cricket at Solihull School.
David Millns: An England A fast bowler who also won the Championship with Leicestershire in 1998. After retiring he took up umpiring and has been on the first-class umpires panel since 2007.

NOT PICTURED:
Matthew Brimson: A spinner who moved to Leicestershire from Kent and is now working as head of geography and hockey as well as cricket coach at West Buckland School in Barnstaple, Devon.
Gregor MacMillan: Batsman who was only the third Leicestershire player to score a century on debut. Captained Oxford University and was a solicitor before taking up teaching at Marlborough College, where he is housemaster of Turner House.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday July 10, 2015

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